My patron saint was a whore.
I know, that sounds really harsh, but it's true. She wasn't a whore because she was cast out by her desperate parents and had to survive in hard times the best way she could. No. She was a whore because she liked sex a great deal, and figured why do it for free if you can get paid for it.
She was a hedonist with a plan.
This is how she met Jesus:
She was hanging out with the boys when she found out about this trip. Folks were going across great waters to venerate the cross. Yes, the cross--the actual one the Jesus was crucified on--now showing at a temple near you.
She thought that sounded good, and decided she would go, too.
The story really doesn't say she was broke. It seems like to me she was pretty good at what she did, and maybe she had the money, but if you can have fun, and not have to use your own money, why not. I told you she was a hedonist with a plan. She ended up paying her fare by showing the boys on the ship a good time. This also prhased meals, and HBO in her room. And so, our industrious heroine arrived at the House of God and went to go venerate the cross like everyone else but there was one problem, Jesus' Mama.
Mary of Egypt tried to get in the door of the church and was held back by an invisible force. There's nothing like a protective Mom, is there? Had I listened to my own, it would have saved me a whole lot of pain. Bless you, Mama. You were right. Tell Jesus that I said so. But I digress.
So, Mary is trying to get in the door, and this force, which I suspect was the Virgin Mary's influence, would not allow Mary to get into the door. She tried three times. Three is a blessed number, isn't it? And three times she was prevented from intering.
This caused Mary to do one of those fearless moral inventories they talk about when you drag yourself to A.A. trying to get sober. So, there's Mary, and she wants to venerate the cross, and she wonders why everybody but her can get in, including the fat, bald guy with the bad breath that she showed a few tricks to, and then she realizes that she is sinful, and she falls to her knees before the statue of Jesus' Mama that is outside the church, and she says, "If you would just help me get in to venerate the cross, I promise I will change my sinful ways."
The Virgin Mother, like all good mothers can tell--she just knows when a girl is sincere, and when Mary tried to get in the fourth time, or really the first time, post confession and acknowledgement of personal sinfulness with plan to completely change lifestyle--in other words, to repent, well the Virgin, or whatever power that prevented Mary's entrance, allowed her to come, and she venerated the cross our precious, lovely Savior hung on when He gave Himself to us, once and for all.
I don't have to tell you that Mary of Egypt left the building a different woman. But here's the really cool thing: she kept repenting. She kept giving her life to Christ. She was baptised very shortly after, and given Holy Communion. She took three loaves of Holy Bread and followed the Lover of her soul into the desert, where she stayed, with only those three loaves for food, for the next 47 years.
She was quite old, when a very holy and wise man named Zosima asked God to show him someone that he could learn from. Someone more holy and wise than himself. And God sent him to the desert, where he found this bronzed and wild person, with dreadlocked hair scurry away from him.
He called out, "Hey, who are you?"
And she said, "Close your eyes, Zosima, and throw me your coat. I'm naked."
He didn't even know she was a woman, but he did as she asked, a little tripped out because he'd asked God to send him someone more holy that he is, and now he's talking to a naked woman in the desert. A woman who knows his name. So, he threw her his coat, and she came to him. He drew her story, which she didn't want to tell, out of her.
She told him everything. Not out of pride, or some romantic, spiritual "the way we were" thing some people have with their wretched mess of a past-life (which they secretly, and not so secretly exhalt). Mary of Egypt had repented. For 47 years. Let me tell you, nobody repents like an Orthodox Christian. Their prayers are full of "I'm a sinner, and Lord have mercies." It made me a little uncertain and uncomfortable at first, like if Kenneth Copeland heard me praying, he'd, as Anne Lamott said in Traveling Mercies, "would want to drink straight gin right out of the cat dish."
Zosima realized that yes, she had him beat, and when she asked him for just one thing, he was happy to help. She said she wanted him to bring her Holy Communion in one year. And he did. She was so happy to see him, to get that blood and body of Christ on her tongue, that she met Zosima on the way by walking across the Jordan river. Yes. On the water.
Anyway, she had the Lord's supper, and asked if he would return in a year with communion again, and he did. But she was gone. She had left her shell of a body, and had Holy Communion herself. She was dead, and her body lay in the desert heat, but she had not decomposed. At all. In a year.
She left a message for Zosima to bury her, but he was quite old himself at the time. Feeling hopeless, he set about to dig her grave, and like a ram in the bush, God sent a lion in the desert, and he used his paws to dig her grave. Zosima buried his beloved mother, now St. Mary of Egypt.
So, what's the problem, raga?
The problem is, from the moment I heard this story, it captured me in is strong arms, and wouldn't release me. The first Orthodox Church I knew of was St. Mary of Egypt's in Kansas City. The first saint story I heard, from the man who would become my godfather, was hers. She just had a way of finding me when I needed her most, and guiding me to all the right stuff.
My friend Mark asked me, "Why does one need a patron saint?" Maybe, not everyone does, but I do. I don't just need her. I need a team of saints that will confer a few times a month and go over a detailed plan on just what to do with me. I need all the help I can get. And so, I feel this great cloud of witnesses, hovering in the clouds, praying for me, wishing me well, and occassionally sending things, by the Holy Spirit, in my direction, just when I need them.
So, what's the problem?
Well, there's this thing of actually taking them as YOUR patron saint. They want to help you, but in their own way. And who can argue with someone that repented for 47 years? St. Mary of Egypt is my patron saint, and she is a little demanding, having given up all and living off of the leftovers from Communion for all that time. She can kinda give a smack down when I refuse to listen. She is ruthless in letting me know that I'm a whore, too. I'm a little bit scared of her, and avoid her sometimes, but she is good humored about it all. She didn't mind that I liked the name Mair, the Welsh version of Mary. She said she thought Mair was cute, but I'd have a time getting people to say it right. It's MY UR. Like Mire. Even though it looks like Mare all day long.
Tonight, my godmother gave me a smack down, and reminded me why Mary chose me. She knows you! Mother Nicole said, and she was right, as usual. Don't think the people of God die. They don't. They go to be with Jesus, and they sing a lot, and they pray a lot, and they love God's people, because that's how it is. You may not need a patron saint, but I do. And even if I didn't, God gave me one, because He is good like that.
That doesn't mean that she doesn't send by the Holy Spirit sharp rebukes. And I hate being sharply rebuked. And that's the trouble with Patron Saints. They love like the people of God they are, only they can see God clearly--they LIVE with Him for heaven's sake. And they spank, and hard.
My spiritual behind is blistered by the former whore who knows all my tricks, and prays for me in heaven.
Oddly, I was Chrismated on the Sunday of the Samaritan woman.
God really has a sense of humor. Doesn't He?
I can just see St. Mary of Egypt give Him a wink over that one.
A holy, shining, wink.